The proposed referendum by the Kenyan opposition to amend sections of the Constitution hangs in the balance after the country’s electoral body said it was underfunded and that the vote may coincide with the General Election.
The earliest that the referendum sponsored by the Coalition for the Restoration of Democracy (CORD), termed Okoa Kenya, can be held is November, when campaigns for the General Election, set for August 2017, will have started.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has said it is short of funds to run the next election, and that it will need additional funds to conduct the referendum.
CORD submitted the Referendum Bill and registers of 1.4 million signatures that they had collected to the IEBC on November 9, 2015. The electoral commission asked for 90 days, until February 4, to verify the names.
IEBC chief executive officer Ezra Chiloba told The EastAfrican that they are mobilising 100 officers across the country to convert the hard copy data into soft copy, and have requested additional funding for the verification drive.
IEBC chairman Issack Hassan said they had requested Ksh2 billion ($19 million) from the current budget, but were only allocated Ksh500 million ($4.8 million). The IEBC has unveiled a new election roadmap indicating that it will cost Ksh45 billion ($445 million) to run the 2017 elections.
Mr Chiloba said that managing a referendum is similar to a General Election, and the question was whether to go on with the referendum when elections are around the corner or to have the referendum question included in the General Election ballot paper.
“The referendum is not guaranteed because the sponsors must persuade at least half of the 47 counties to approve the Bill for it to proceed. But Kenyans will have to decide the best sequence, because having a major electoral event in the same cycle as the General Election has its challenges,” said Mr Chiloba.
After verification, the IEBC will forward the Bill to the 47 counties, which have 90 days to pass or reject it. The Bill will then be forwarded to both the National Assembly and the Senate, which also have 90 days for debate and voting.
According to lawyer Paul Mwangi, the chairman of the CORD Referendum Committee, the referendum can be held before August if parliament decides to dispense with the Bill in less than three months.
The challenges to the referendum include strong opposition from the government, a parallel drive sponsored by the ruling coalition to change the laws, and persuading at least 24 counties, the National Assembly and the Senate to pass the Bill.
Opposition party CORD has fewer numbers in both Houses than the ruling Jubilee Alliance, even though 24 out of the 47 counties are run by CORD-affiliated governors.
The IEBC has declared August 4, 2017 the election date, prompting some politicians from the ruling Jubilee Alliance to propose that the amendments either be done in parliament or the IEBC expand the ballot paper to include the referendum questions.
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Mr Mwangi maintained that facing a General Election does not mean the country cannot hold a constitutional referendum. He is opposed to having a referendum incorporated in the General Election because of the risk of it being mixed up with politics that is personality-based.
Majority leader in the National Assembly Aden Duale, maintains that the government is ready to effect constitutional amendments through parliament, but is opposed to a referendum, which, he says, is likely to be divisive.
But Prof Anyang Nyong’o, CORD senator for Kisumu, said the items in the Referendum Bill can only be amended by a referendum according to Article 255 of the Constitution.
Among the key issues the referendum is seeking to amend are increasing the county vote from not less than 15 per cent of the national budget to 45 per cent because 50 per cent of services that the national government used provide are now in the hands of county governments; allowing political parties to nominate IEBC commissioners according to their strength in parliament to ensure accountability; incorporating county governments into the management and disposal of public land; involving the Senate in the division of revenue to the counties, and in the County Security Advisory Council to enable county governments to have a say in the security of their territory.
There are two other referendum drives seeking to amend the Constitution: The MP for Gatundu South, Moses Kuria, is pushing for a referendum to reduce the number of county governments from 47 to 18, abolish the Senate, and reduce the National Assembly from 349 to 200 members in order to reduce the government wage bill.
The Council of Governors has also called for a referendum termed “Pesa Mashinani” to increase county allocations from 15 to 45 per cent. Jubilee mandarins say a national dialogue could be held instead of a referendum.
But Mr Mwangi said it is too late, because CORD had earlier called for a national dialogue but the government refused. “We have never closed our doors to dialogue, but it can only arise if the other side is serious and clear on what they want they need a national dialogue for,” he said.